Optimism abounds as a new gardening season arrives

Bright sunshine, warmer days and buds from every tree and bush bursting out all over!

It’s definitely the beginning of the growing season.

This year, I plan to concentrate on the basics of home gardening: tomatoes (of course!), lettuce, carrots, beans, potatoes, and a few herbs, such as parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme (there’s a song there, somewhere!).

The garden goes in this weekend. As I grow older, my garden gets a little smaller, but it still provides plenty of fresh, delicious, nutritious vegetables. As always, when the season ends, and my larder of fresh or home-canned vegetables runs out, I always miss the fresh, wonderful taste of all those vegetables.

Someone who has never grown their own vegetable garden, even a small one that might include just items for the freshest of the fresh salads, cannot appreciate the difference in taste.

I’ve often thought that if somehow in the future I could not physically care for a large, backyard garden, I would continue to grow some things in easily accessible five-gallon plastic buckets with holes in the bottom for drainage, and grow whatever I could in them.

And if that’s all the space the beginning gardener has, those will provide wonderfully flavorful vegetables, too. A small salad garden might consist of a few tomato plants, a couple of lettuce varieties and/or spinach, perhaps a few onion bulbs, and anything else that the gardener may want in their daily salad.

For those of us who grow vegetables for both the summer and winter seasons, then summer and winter squash, peas, carrots, beets, corn and myriad other vegetables will likely be seen in our backyard gardens.

Virtually everything can planted by Memorial Day now. When I first started planting a vegetable garden (more than 50 years ago), those who dared to plant so early risked a killing frost. Now, with summer coming sooner and fall lasting longer, it’s rare that a garden planted on Memorial Day weekend would be killed by cold.

But it can still happen, so be patient if the seeds you plant in mid-May don’t sprout as quickly as expected, and don’t be surprised if those tender tomato plants get killed by an unexpected frost.

Gardeners are an optimistic bunch. We plant and plant and plant, and hope for the best. We shovel and rake and hoe and weed and come inside with sore muscles. And even when we’re sorer than usual, it’s all worth the work.

Whatever can be found in the grocery store falls far short of what we can grow in our own gardens. Plus, we have that sense of pride. 

The first two crops I usually plant are potatoes and peas. There’s a old saying in the state of Maine that peas and salmon are a traditional feast for the Fourth of July. And as far as potatoes go (I like Norlands, Kennebec and Yukon Gold), we can plant them and then harvest a few meals’ worth of small, very potato-y spuds less than six or seven weeks later.

Allowing them to grow to full size takes a few more weeks. They can then be stored in a cool, dark, humid place for about six months or so. When we ate the last of our own homegrown potatoes this year, I practically had a ceremony before eating them.

Of course, Maine farmers grow some of the best potatoes in the world, rivaled only by Idaho, a western state that grows slightly different potato species.

Peas are the first green vegetables to be harvested. In my opinion, they take more work to grow, harvest and store. But they taste fabulous, and freeze very well for future eating.

Parsley is the best herb to grow while the temperatures are still low. In fact, parsley is so tough that it will withstand several frosts in autumn.

Lettuce and spinach are other early crops that can handle chilly weather. As the month progresses, other vegetables, herbs and flowers can be planted without fear of freezing.

To do right now:

* Churn the garden space or fill several buckets with good gardening soil.

* Fertilize with compost or organic fertilizer.

* Pick a few vegetables to start with; if it seems that you may have enough energy or time to plant more, that can be done as well.

* Keep a “map” of when and where vegetables are planted.

* And most of all, thank the magical earth for the opportunity to grow some of your own food.

Eileen M. Adams has been growing a vegetable garden for almost 50 years. She solved the problem of her goose flock feasting on her hard work by finally building a fence around the garden. She may be reached at [email protected]

Young rhubarb plants have a long way to go before harvesting. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

A multitude of azalea buds peek out at spring. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

The wild day lilies are still just green leaves as the season blossoms. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

Less than two months separates us from the fruit of the wild strawberry plant and its succulent cultivated cousins. (Eileen M. Adams photo)

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